Title: The Testament of Jessie Lamb
Author: Jane Rogers
Publication Year: 2012
Genre: Fiction, Dystopian
Source: Review copy from the publisher through NetGalley
From the cover:
A rogue virus that kills pregnant women has been let loose in the world, and nothing less than the survival of the human race is at stake.
Some blame the scientists, others see the hand of God, and still others claim that human arrogance and destructiveness are reaping the punishment they deserve. Jessie Lamb is an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl living in extraordinary times. As her world collapses, her idealism and courage drive her toward the ultimate act of heroism. She wants her life to make a difference. But is Jessie heroic? Or is she, as her scientist father fears, impressionable, innocent, and incapable of understanding where her actions will lead?
Set in a world irreparably altered by an act of biological terrorism, The Testament of Jessie Lamb explores a young woman’s struggle to become independent of her parents. As the certainties of her childhood are ripped apart, Jessie begins to question her parents’ attitudes, their behavior, and the very world they have bequeathed her.
I first picked up this book because I found the premise interesting. A virus that kills pregnant women? Definitely up my alley. What I didn’t understand, though, was that the virus kills them as their pregnancy progresses, and that they can still get pregnant – there’s nothing stopping that from happening to begin with. For some reason, I had been under the impression that this meant that all currently pregnant women were dying, and that that would be the end of reproduction because no one would get pregnant after that, not because they would die from doing so.
So anyways, after that part was revealed, the real strength of Rogers’ book really became clear: the moral dilemmas that everyone – from parents to teenagers, from scientists to religious leaders – has to wrestle with. There are so many questions that need answering, and no clear answers. How will the human race survive? Are the lives of babies more important than the lives of the girls who are luckily (or unluckily) young enough to be able to survive the ordeal? How far can medical science go before it’s too far?
What I found most interesting about The Testament of Jessie Lamb was the dance that each character had to do in order to navigate the fine line between right and wrong … if there even is one. Most dystopias that I’ve read in the past have a very clearly defined cause for the way things have become; in this book, nobody knows where the virus really came from, and are instead left to deal with the aftermath without any preconceived ideas about who’s to blame. (Or, at least, none that are definitely true.) I loved the moral ambiguity of Jessie Lamb: no one is definitely right or wrong, and everyone is left to make their own decisions about what is ethical for them.
I was drawn into this story by the premise, but I kept reading because of the characters. The ways in which their lives, beliefs, and actions overlapped was fascinating. Jessie, as the narrator, came across as both an intelligent and intriguing teenager trying hard to reconcile her values with what is happening in the world around her, and a self-centered girl who doesn’t care about the way her actions will affect those around her. And the other characters, her friends and family in particular, had their own contradictions and complications.
If you’re a fan of dystopias, or you want to read a book that will really make you think, The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a great choice.